The Bear by Nick Norton

She piled the stones, rearranged the stones, and then she sat down and made a drawing of the stones. The drawing was less satisfying than the stones. She rolled the stones one at another, handled them, weighed them, and assessed them by making judgements on colour and weight and shape.

Always she placed the stone in comparison, in contrast, in relation with one other stone. This stone was, to her mind, called The Bear. She had been carrying it with her for a while. Part of her (secret) reasoning in making this walking holiday was to find a suitable companion for The Bear.

This stone, she found, was marvellous at activating and invigorating the view. She delighted in placing The Bear beside any number of other stones. She rested it on windowsills and entire hillsides rearranged themselves to The Bear’s contours. She mapped her numerous still life drawings over a wall in her rented accommodation. She was not satisfied. It was not her drawing, as such. It was not composition or poor observation. It was the fact that although The Bear motivated each arrangement, always it still ended up as a stone alone. She could not find it a suitable partner.

One day, a particular fist shaped flint was attracting her scrutiny. Could this be the complimentary piece? The light shone on it and it radiated, pooling the light around itself. She took up a fine paintbrush and began drawing, using a saucer full of watery black gouache to etch out the negative space. As a drawing it was — okay. Just okay. Then she smacked her forehead and wondered why her labour had become so circular. Surely it was not her drawing which was at stake here but the two rocks themselves. She pushed aside all her artwork and placed The Bear and the Flint besides each other.

The morning was still, sunny; replete. The breeze was gentle. Her cottage was splendidly isolated; fantastic walks; wonderful views in all directions. Even so, this simple coupling of two rocks infuriated her. The day was ruined: She picked up The Bear, stood, and dropped it on the flint. The flint shattered into many pieces. The fragments scattered, vanishing off the table in several directions. It was too much. Although she herself had shattered the peace; still, she had to stroll around the cottage, forcing herself to be calm.

When she returned to the debris, stiff gin to hand, the remaining core of the cracked stone revealed itself as a smoky pulse. Blue greys visible beneath a sheen, the colours contrasting decisively with its chalky exterior. She accused it of not being the one. It was an imposter, a shard, a splinter. Even so, in its broken state it remained alluring.

The afternoon was spent trying to resolve her violence by trying to paint the flint’s subtle array. This proved to be an ultimately futile task. After supper she put everything aside, apart from the several extra gins, and in due course surrendered her slightly wobbly step to the moorland’s shadows. Eventually the shifting tides of dusk all stabilised and, above her, the stars pricked out an infinite allure.

That night, at some point before stumbling into bed, she decided her dalliance with stones had come to its conclusion. Early in the morning, feeling remarkably fresh, she found a knapsack and piled all her rock collection into it. The Bear stone she carefully separated and put in her jacket pocket. Weighed down by this collection, she set off over the moor. It was a misty dawn, the heather wet, draperies of spider silk hung with white beads. Her pathway was obscured by rolling vapours, shifting moistures. Still, she believed she knew the way.

Soon the morning sun was drawing up cloud from the ground. Light flooded the mist. She stopped. Water pooled on her coat and dripped. Droplets settled in her hair and rolled over her brow, sliding along her nose. Scatting notes; a soft percussive patting slithered off her clothing and ornamented her breathing. This was the only noise. Stillness silence and obscurity; the luminous cloud held her. There was no direction, no pathway.

Swaying with the weight of her bag, the stones slung over her front like a vast constipated gut. As the sun rose, so the cloud became whiter; flecks of green and purple, the only colour to be found was in the heather cushioning her footfall. The knapsack belly grinded out a gentle disquiet. She continued to walk, feeling a way forward with each foot.

Location eroded and then orientation dissolved; the walk demanding a series of speculative shapes. She may have been walking upside down or reeling though her own body backwards; spiralling lostness, zig zagged bewilderment. Night waters soaked through to the feet and made their way up trouser legs. She thought that eventually all the mists were going to be sucked into her clothing and then, when utterly soaked, only then might she be able to see where she was going.

A boulder with cup and ring carvings appeared. Perhaps it found her. The mist was warming and starting to form a vibrating tent between the sun, this low boulder, and herself. She undid the bag and tipped forward. Rock cascaded onto rock, the boulder resounding, shivering as a drum shivers; delighting in its low boom.

The ancient rock was now covered with an incoherent rubble. Mortified, she at once bent down and began flicking aside stones, rolling pebbles one way and then another. Soon she was throwing the stones into a pile beside the boulder. This pile grew into a cairn which she took time to properly stack. Turning back to the boulder, she saw how its carvings were now drawing patterns around – and with – the few stones she had left on it. In her pocket she found The Bear. She threw it on the boulder. It bounced once and then fell into a cup. The Bear was telling her something. She stood and jigged around, barely contained her excitement. She could not yet tell what it was telling her and yet she felt a tune pressing upwards though her flesh. This boulder, the stones, and her own body were somehow a precursor to musicality.

On the boulder she noticed the broken flint and bent down to look at it suspiciously: Had not this thing already been discarded? She picked it up and crashed it down upon the ancient carvings. Once more the flint split.

Now she held a flint leaf. A blue oval. A grey chert fire. A shimmer of dusky quartz. She held it up as a mirror and saw, not herself, but behind herself.

The morning was pushing aside the mist; a growing luminescence mushed into shadow, of sorts, a grey flint fire. She put her hand behind the outheld rock and a halo appeared to hover in her palm. The double prism of her body and the flint gave out an aura which wafted above the cup and ring pattern. She began jumping on the spot. Her grin grew, and she dropped the flint onto the flat boulder. She jumped left and right, she leapt over the boulder and she leapt back. Now she bent low and span. Then a brute spasm shook her spine and she was thrown to one side, cast aside as if a forgotten toy. She sprawled in the leaf mulch, seeing the mist seethe and evaporate, its whiteness killed by blueness. She was humming.

Humming noises sloppily ran down either side of her face. It was neither a melody nor a litany. There were no words but there was an overflow, spillage sung in between her teeth. Beside this cup and ring marked boulder there was a tree. She had not at first noticed it. As the mists cleared it became apparent, yet still she did not remember it from previously. No matter, she was simply glad for it. This tree was present to her for a reason. It was then that she heard growling, some hungry interest approached and came close. Her legs weakened but still she climbed. She climbed swiftly, bravely, a part of her mind marvelling at her own dexterity. A bear was below her now, snuffing around in her emptied knapsack.

The glossy black creature suddenly sat back on its haunches and began to vigorously scrub its rear up and down on the tree, which began to shake. Her safe perch began to bounce. The wood groaned in orgasmic delight. She swung wildly, clasping hard the branch. Although the tree was vast, the girth of centuries holding it aloft, still the bear’s itching set the whole structure aquiver. She lashed herself into the dangerously swooning branches. A bear agitated sap flushed through her being. The pleasure and delight of the bear swarmed up the underside of the bark. She became dizzy. In its quivering epidermis the tree challenged her grip, her safety knots, and her flesh. Clinging, biting down on her lips so that her cry would not escape, so that her wilding body and throat should not distract the bear nor bring her to its attention, thus she held on and rode the bear’s ablutions. And then, without looking up, the bear lumbered away, knocking over her careful pile of rocks.

She struggled and caught and exhausted herself, hanging in a tree.

Bears, she thought. Bears. Are they even meant to live here?

She hated it. She hated it for how alone it made her. She stayed in the tree, abducted by her own pleasure, a body flown as a flag. The flag of a lost country.

Nick Norton has been published in The Happy Hypocrite, Shooter, The Adjacent Pineapple, Epoque Press, Idle Ink, Fictive Dream, The Honest Ulsterman and elsewhere. You can find his website here and he tweets here.

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